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Busy? So what?

Optimize Blog - April 5, 2016 - 0 comments

How many times do people let you know that they are just “really busy?”
But what are these people actually working on? Why are they busy and importantly have you asked them lately? How often do you look someone in the eye and ask the question “What are you working on?”
It doesn’t stop there – the questions should be “What are you working on and what difference is it going to make to the business?” Of course, don’t just ask your people but turn the question on yourself.
In reality a lot of busy stuff adds no value to your business and therefore it should simply stop. People should understand the purpose of their function, their team and their own role. They should execute that purpose efficiently and they should stop doing anything that does not serve that purpose.
Their purpose should be reflected in their goals and objectives and it should impact on the reward and recognition system that you have in place. Can they verbalize their purpose in a sentence or two and is the stated purpose fluffy or hard hitting and impactful?
Of course, you need to establish what the purpose is and what the important stuff is that they should be focusing on. Focus is in fact the key to all of this and any lack of focus must simply be removed.
The current global economic turmoil is a specific case in point. The impact is not underestimated but people jump to the action imperative – doing something in the hope that the ‘something’ will help navigate the turbulent waters. Just feeling busy almost provides a sense of well being and some flawed inference that being busy will somehow have a positive impact.
The definition of ‘busy’ includes “actively or fully engaged or occupied, overcrowded or cluttered with detail” – nothing in this definition leads us to the conclusion that being busy is going to deliver tangible impacts to the business. So what do we need to be busy on?
Taking time to consider what needs to be done and identifying your focus is the essential element. This might take some thinking time, some assessment of the environment and understanding of what will truly impact the bottom line, viability and success of the company. Ask yourself “what number or numbers am I trying to change?” What is the strategy which is going to provide you with the best chance of success? Is it feasible, sustainable and acceptable? Do you even know how to determine a strategy or worse, are you just “too busy” to spend the time?
If you have no strategy you have no direction. If you have no direction, then you have no focus. If you have no focus then you and your people will be busy……but to what end?
Once you know what numbers you need to impact (undoubtedly under the themes of revenue, cost and risk) then you can start to determine how you are going to impact those numbers. Importantly you need also to understand how you are going to measure the impact of your action – how will you know when you have succeeded?
Remember also that strategy is fundamentally about two things – trade-offs and the bottom line. The trade-off question is a tough one and being busy often means you are trying to do everything or at least a lot of things. Being effective in implementing a strategy is incumbent upon you knowing what you are going to do and importantly expressing explicitly what you are not going to do.
The difficulty here is prioritization. How many top managers have 40 or 50 top priorities? Forget it – they just won’t get done but at least you can carry them forward to next year….!
Rigorous prioritization for your focus is key. Yes, good ideas and some revenue opportunities will be delayed or postponed but better to get a few impact initiatives delivered than be busy on not delivering a bunch of activity that never goes on to achieve the impact intended.
Implement a system for ranking and prioritizing objectives – get people to work hard and intelligently on business cases to secure resources and investment for their ideas and actions. If they are important initiatives it will be worth spending the time on making a case – if you can’t spend the time making the case then don’t expect to engage others.
So next time someone tells you they are busy ask them the question “Great, what are you working on and what impact is that going to have on the business?” When they tell you then follow up with the “so what?” question. So what if they are busy improving data quality, so what if they are holding team meetings, so what if they are completing complex reports, so what if they are amending forms…
If the “so what?” cannot be answered with a driving up revenue, driving down cost or mitigating risk answer then it’s likely that those people need to re-focus on activity that will…….

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